There are 13,800 public school districts in the U.S., which means there are just as many school boards. Though these boards collectively represent an estimated 55.2 million students, they’re not always successful at furthering student success. However, there are seven signs effective school board members will have in common.
Above all else, effective school board members prioritize student achievement. But how effective they really are has everything to do with how they pave the road toward better performance.
Here’s how school boards can get started.
The 7 Signs of Effective School Board Members
In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” School boards are much the same. When things are going wrong, any challenges could be the culprit, from a misunderstanding of their roles and responsibilities to a poorly managed budget.
When things are going right, it usually involves the seven signs of effective school board members. These include:
1) Having a Clear Vision for Their District
Effective school board members can see a path forward. They understand where their district succeeds and where their district has challenges, and they have a vision for not only what a better district will look like but also how to get there.
The foundation for this vision is a deep understanding of the district and not just a passion for public education. Board members are successful when they master the finer details of their district and use that to fuel their ideas for the future.
2) Setting Goals
Though having a vision is critical, visions alone don’t make a change — goals do. Setting goals is one of the most vital signs of effective school board members because goals give shape to what action school board members will take during their terms. When the going gets tough, school boards can return to their goals as a litmus test for whether or not to do something; if the initiative doesn’t tie back to the goals, it doesn’t move forward.
Goals are also the best way for school boards to measure success. They can reflect on the progress they’ve made towards their goals and use that to report back to the community and the superintendent.
3) Focusing on Student Achievement
School boards are pulled in many different directions. They’re elected as the community’s voice on public education, but they also have to win the favor of educators and staff within the district. However, these are both essential. Effective school board members never forget that their top priority is student achievement.
No matter how loud the other voices get, school boards are successful when they remember that they must protect the interests of their students. Influential school board members can manage others’ expectations and also help them understand — and even support — their unwavering focus on student outcomes.
4) Build Positive Relationships Throughout the District
The saying goes that it’s all about who you know. This is absolutely true for school boards. School board members need to become part of the district, not just a silent group overseeing district activities. Instead, they need to foster constructive relationships with everyone from the superintendent to the teachers.
Successful school board members know that these are the relationships that will help them get a closer look at the district’s day-to-day and create action that will make change where it’s needed. The support of district staff is indispensable to school boards — effective school board members never forget this.
5) Connect With Their Community
School boards are the community’s voice within public education. School boards oversee weekly board meetings that are open to the public. But this shouldn’t be the only time boards connect with their communities.
From their first campaign to their final day in office, school board members should strive to be available to their community. This means attending district and community events, offering transparency into school board activities, and being willing to answer to school board initiatives when they’re out and about.
6) Strategically Use Resources
School districts aren’t known for their wealth of resources. Budgets are already strapped, and communities don’t always approve levies to supplement those budgets. That’s why one of the most significant signs of effective school board members is strategically using their existing resources.
This means developing (and following) a smart budget and incorporating growth opportunities like personal development. Getting the board exposure to new and different approaches can help breathe new life into the district. Managing resources well will create more exposure for the board and, in turn, the district.
7) Monitor Progress Using Data
Effective school board members know that achieving success isn’t just a positive mindset — it calls for a more methodical approach. It requires taking strategic action against their goals and, most importantly, measuring whether or not those actions make progress.
Whether boards curate their data or have someone to do so for them, successful board members can read and interpret data and use that data to inform their next steps. This helps keep boards on track and ensures that everything they do really does better the student experience.
Bonus Sign: Effective Meetings Lead to Effective Boards
Meetings aren’t always the most exciting item on anyone’s agenda. But successful meetings are actually a sign of effective school board members. These are the venues when school boards can tap into their community’s feelings about issues facing the district, as well as hear valuable stories from teachers and other educators.
Though meetings can be great, they can also get out of hand. School board members need to know when to let the conversation flow, when to move on to the next agenda item, and how to make all constituents feel heard.